James ‘Midge’ Ure OBE was born 10 October 1953. He is a legendary Scottish musician, singer-songwriter and producer. Midge enjoyed particular success in the 1970s and ’80s in bands including Slik, Thin Lizzy, Rich Kids, Visage and most notably as frontman of Ultravox. In 1984 Ure co-wrote and produced the charity single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ which has sold 3.7 million copies in the UK alone and r aised more than $24,000,000 for charity. The song is the second highest selling single in UK chart history. He co-organised Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8 with Bob Geldof and acts as trustee for the charity, as well as serving as Ambassador for Save the Childr en.Band Aid and Live Aid combined, raised over $150 million for the famine relief in Ethiopia.
M – How did you come up with the various band names Midge? MU – Well, Ultravox were in existence before I joined. I came up with Visage and prior to that I came up with Slick. John O’Farrell wrote a fantastic book called “As Good as it Gets” and there is a great 4 pages about a couple of guys going through all the names of their band – and it gets more and more hysterical – I thought, I’ve done that, I’ve been there doing that! The best band name I’ve come across is called “668 Neighbour of the Beast” – isn’t that wonderful.
RM – When I had my first band, we were 16 and spent more time trying to work out what to call ourselves than we did deciding who could or would play what instrument. I came up with ‘Pure Zenith’ and we ended up being called ‘The Aerosols’. You don’t want to mispronounce that!
RM – Crass question, which is the greatest band you have played with, in terms gelling together?
MU – Ultravox. There was something from the moment I walked in. I mean, the odds were against Ultravox working and they won’t mind me saying that. They had just lost a singer and guitarist, they had just come back from an American tour to find they had been dropped by the record label, they owed a lot of money – nothing was right. But the moment I walked into the rehearsal room and we had only just scraped the money together to pay for that – the moment we plugged in and made a noise, it was the most glorious thing I had ever heard in my life.
RM – Why did that magic happen?
MU – It was something to do with that marriage of the synthesiser technology and traditional rock music instrumentation. And like-mindedness I suppose? I was looking for something that was different from the Rich Kids and different from what I had done before, which was all guitar based stuff. In fact I bought a synthesiser for the Rich Kids which broke the band up, they hated it in 1978. I was listening to all this music from Germany, Neu! Kraftwerk and Dusseldorf – I thought there is a hybrid here. So when I went into the rehearsal room that day it could not have gone better – I didn’t make Ultravox happen, it was a combination of the characters coming together at the right time. Maybe had the rehearsal happened on a different day, a different mind-set, it might not have worked? I joined the band in ‘79 – we had just put Visage together – made up of all my favourite musicians at the time and through working on the Visage project, I ended up joining Ultravox. We finished in 1985 just after Live Aid – that was the last thing we did as a band. That took me away from the band for a couple of years and by the time we got back together again, it had all changed. It was like a divorce, we came back desperately trying to make it work but it had all dissipated by then, different directions.
RM – The band you performed in that I liked most was Thin Lizzy.
MU – I was on tour in Germany three weeks ago with Scott Gorham. So I find myself on tour doing a 3 week tour with an orchestra, rock band and a variety of artists. I don’t know why they asked me to do it because I’m not a rock artist at all? So the headliner was Joey Tempest from Europe (The Final Countdown), the singer of Kansas and Scott Gorman. I found myself back on stage playing The Boys are Back in Town, for the first time in 37 years! It took me straight back to the moment I stepped off Concorde to join Thin Lizzy.
RM – My musical tastes were at odds with my contemporaries because when I went to a record shop at the age of about 13 or 14, all the cool people were hanging around the progressive section and I had to go to the Easy Listening section because I was a massive Elvis fan – it was dramatically uncool to like Elvis and even worse to be seen thumbing through the clearly signposted Easy Listening records! But I did adore Live and Dangerous.
MU – That album summed up a Thin Lizzy concert. My favourite song was I’m Still in Love with You.
RM – Mine was Don’t Believe a Word. MU – It’s funny because these songs aren’t covered very often. Scandinavian rock bands still cover The Boys are Back in Town.
RM – Have you ever brought any Jazz influences into your music?
MU – Only when I make mistakes! I just don’t understand it – it’s never resonated with me at all.
RM – And soul, you have soul… could you be described as a soul singer?
MU – I could, but not in the sense that you mean. Then again people call what they are hearing from Beyonce R&B – and it’s not R&B – it’s a whole different thing. You listen to Jamie Cullum, who’s called Jazz – but a lot of what he does is straight forward Americanised rock or pop.
RM – Who do you listen to, Midge?
MU – I’ve got fairly Catholic tastes when it comes to music. I still listen to all the people I have always listened to. But it’s very difficult now, getting the musical education that you used to get. Because radio used to inform you and teach you about new artists – now you have to search for it. Unless you have BBC 6 permanently on in your car! Something happens when you make music for a living – you analyse it rather than listening to it. You listen to the production, the arrangements, the bass drum sound and it kind of sullies the enjoyment you get from it. But every so often you are exposed to something you don’t know about and you turn the radio up instead of turning it off. That’s a magic moment.
RM – When was the last time that happened?
MU – I suppose it was Sigur Ros – an Icelandic band. I heard the tune on late night radio and I remember picking up my phone and switching on the recorder. And then you find the cannon of what came before.
A bit like finding a good book you enjoy and then you realise its number 7 of a series of 15. A weird thing happened to me recently, back in 1982 I did a cover of Bowie’s, Man Who Sold the World – I did it for a dodgy British movie called ‘Part Party’ – they wanted contemporary artists at the time to do cover versions. But it kind of came and went and nobody paid any attention to it. A few years back when Ultravox got back together and we were playing Hammersmith, we got this message saying a very important Japanese guy, massive fan would like to come and say hello, he’s flown in specially to see you. So this guy turns up with his entourage and he’s a game designer – he designed the game, Metal Gear Solid – big game. Turns out he doesn’t speak English so we are speaking through an interpreter and he mentions Man Who Sold the World! Then a year later, I’m playing in Japan and he invites me to their offices – I had to sign their version of the official secrets act because I was privy to what they were working on – the technology was amazing. Then he tells me the final instalment to these series of games in Metal Gear Solid, he has written in my version of Man Who Rules the World – sure enough a year later, this things pops through the post. The whole 20 minute set-up before the game starts is about this guy in a hospital, waking up in the 80’s and turning on his radio to that song. Because of that game, these kids have gone back and discovered a huge amount of work we did over the years – amazing
RM – So tell us about your next tour?
MU – It’s all over the UK and in early 2017, possibly Ireland and New Zealand. The guys I’m touring with are a band, two young multi-instrumental musicians – incredible. I always want to give new bands and new artists a chance to do their thing and often bring on acts on tour. But last year, every time I got to a venue and heard these guys I would stop what I was doing and just listen to them. ‘Something from Everything’ is the concept and its weird, we were rehearsing yesterday and these guys were teaching me my own songs! When you finish something, whatever it is, that’s it – you are satisfied with it at that time – you don’t want it analysed 30 years down the line. So it’s a really odd thing going back and playing some of these things. So these kids are telling me the chords!
RM – But have you fallen back in love with some of your old songs?
MU – Yes a few that I haven’t listened to in many, many years. And when we starting playing them, even in this very acoustic, organic format, the songs just sparked up and came to life again. I understood why I wrote it in the first place. Whereas most songs, when you look back you aren’t the same person, you aren’t in the same headspace and you just think, well I don’t quite get it? What possessed me to write this?
RM – The lapse in time and the remeeting is quite interesting? In two weeks’ time you might say its shit, but at the time you are making it…
MU – Absolutely. That’s just a sign of progress. You have to recognise music for being ‘of its time’.
RM – Quite a lot of what you wore at the time has come back into fashion!
MU – Most of what we wore in the first years of Ultravox were ‘dead men’s clothes’ – just stuff we could pick up in Oxfam – shabby chic I suppose? We had no money and no wherewithal – look at the Blitz in the late 70’s, they were robbing their grandmothers wardrobes! They turned up looking like Audrey Hepburn. It was the time of the 3 day working week – nobody had anything.
RM – Do you have a collection of Memorabilia?
MU – I’ve got bits and pieces. I still have the raincoat I wore in the Vienna video – the Burberry. It’s the first thing I ever bought when I made any money – I had always wanted a raincoat. I’ve still got the cheap mirrored glasses I wore at Live Aid and the leather coat I wore that day. The one sunny day we had that year and I wore a coat! But you wouldn’t know my house is a musician’s house, there are no records on the wall. I’ve never been a collector like that.
RM – People talked about Britain becoming a 2nd world nation in the 1970s but it was a period of extraordinary creativity on every front. MU – But isn’t that when creativity happens at its best? When people are languishing – you don’t create the same things when you are in the lap of luxury. There would be no Blues for a start! Look at the Blitz. In this little club in Soho all the fashion world, musicians, writers and designers were all there – it was a real creative boiling point.
RM – Did you go to a lot of clubs?
MU – I suppose not, I was a real workaholic. While people were out going to clubs I was helping create the music they were dancing to. My old partner in crime at Rich Kids and Visage, Dustin Regan DJ’d and I’d be busy in the studio for 14 hours a day. He’d be doing the late shift at Peoples Palace in Camden. I was working, not dancing the night away. It was the time of the Wag Club and all those places…
RM – Do you have children?
MU – Four daughters, eldest 29 who went to the dark-side and works as an agent – which I’m very pleased about, more of a chance of making a living. Another daughter 22 about to graduate from Edinburgh in sociology, another daughter 19 just started at East Sussex University last year and the youngest is 17 at home, still at school. I actually received an honorary degree from Edinburgh – it was lovely, I didn’t have to work for it!
RM – You’ve got quite a few of letters after your name…
MU – Yes more letters after than in it! I’m not sure what they all are, I’ve forgotten them all but I know I’ve got five honorary degrees.
RM – We will try and fit all your letters in, after your name in this magazine!