Q+A: Midge Ure
John Earls talks to Midge Ure about his 2020 touring plans and new boxset that covers the former Ultravox frontman’s entire career…
Midge Ure is celebrating his past with new compilation Soundtrack 1978-2019, the first to encompass The Rich Kids through Visage and Ultravox to his solo years. He’s also touring both the albums he released in 1980 – Visage’s debut and the first record he made with Ultravox. But is all this activity a delaying tactic to stop Midge having to make new music? It just might be…
What made you decide to celebrate your 1980 albums with a tour?
Every time I perform at an 80s festival, people say, “Fuck me, I had no idea you could still do that!” I’d lost contact with a lot of my audience, as they don’t go to the smaller town hall-type venues I play. You sometimes have to remind people what you’ve done, to get them onside for what you’re currently doing. This is me going, “Hello! I’m still here and I can still do it!” People have a composite image of what you are, and mine is the guy with the ponytail, the moustache and the long raincoat. I’m aware that, to most people, all I ever did was Vienna. There’s a lot more to it, and I wanted to show that by celebrating the year when I broke through the invisible barrier – finding an ability to experiment and reaching somewhere beyond what had been going on.
How has it felt to revisit those songs 39 years later?
It’s interesting hearing material I’ve never performed before. Apart from Fade To Grey, I’ve never played any of the Visage songs, as we were a studio band. Some of them have aged well. I didn’t remember Mind Of A Toy as being particularly good, but it’s a great example of what Visage was trying to do – get together with some of our favourite musicians and see what happens. Some other songs were cobbled together. You can tell it was a nightmare getting us in the studio together, as those songs are padded out a bit.
Will you still play those songs, for that completist “An album in full” mood for the audience?
I’d initially intended to do that. The truth is, I hadn’t listened to Visage since we made it. When I did, I couldn’t play some songs, as I’d have felt silly. Malpaso Man and Moon Over Moscow are slightly tongue-in-cheek, very influenced by Yellow Magic Orchestra. If I was cringing on stage at what I’m playing, it’d be cabaret. Visage and Vienna mark a very major period of my life, and I want to do right by them. Instead, I’ve reassessed other Visage songs like our cover of In The Year 2525, which was the original thumbnail sketch we did as a demo of what Visage could be. Vienna is easier. It’s an audio version of Blade Runner at times. I think that’s because it’s not wholly electronic or wholly acoustic; it mixes them together to create an atmosphere.
As well as the tour, the new compilation Soundtrack 1978-2019 is the first to celebrate all your work. How did it feel seeing it all on the same album?
It’s not quite all my work, as some people have ranted about Slik not being on there. But I didn’t feel I contributed anything to Slik, as I wasn’t even allowed to play on the big hits. Gary Kemp told me a few years ago that The Rich Kids was the bridge between punk and electronic. He saw us in 1978, when I’d brought a synthesiser into the band. That was interesting, as I was trying to do what eventually happened in Ultravox, incorporate technology with traditional instruments. So Marching Men felt a perfect starting point. I’m really pleased that the compilation isn’t just the hits. If I was dead, this would be the album to represent me. But I’m not dead, so I get to enjoy how much of a quality piece of work I think it is!
When Classic Pop reviewed Soundtrack 1978-2019, we said you don’t make enough music, but when you do it’s usually worth the wait…
Ha ha, I’ll take that! There are long gaps… I’m aware my last album Fragile was five years ago. If I’m honest, it’s painful to try to create new music when you’ve got a huge body of work. You don’t want to retrace your footsteps from all those years ago and repeat what you’ve done, but you also don’t want to go off on a tangent and do something so radically different that you’re not comfortable with it. It’s always a bit of a grind.
How are the new songs you’re making shaping up?
On stage, first and foremost I play guitar. But when I do that in the studio, it sounds a bit heavy metal. I alter that with electronics, and what I’ve been doing is twiddling knobs and using much more electronics. I’m dabbling with new technology that sounds like technology. That’s not to say it won’t all change!
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