Whether you know of him through the ‘80s anthems he had a hand in creating (Ultravox’s ‘Vienna’ and Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’ to name a few), or his input with Band Aid and Live Aid, Midge Ure is undoubtedly a household name. Even before Visage he played with Thin Lizzy and successful punk acts, while a solo career brought him a number one single and number two album.
We caught up with the man born James Ure to discuss his current Breathe Again tour – which sees him playing his fourth solo album in its entirety twenty years after its release – as well as an upcoming tour with other artists from the decade which he played a huge hand in soundtracking, and why we won’t be seeing another Live Aid or Bob Geldof collaboration…
How’s the tour going so far?
It’s been brilliant. I was kind of wary of doing this, I wanted to do it and I’m doing the entire album – topping and tailing with the regular hits and things – but doing the whole album for 45 minutes in the middle of the show. And I thought: “There’s bound to be people who don’t know the album, they’re going to get bored then going to talk away” and it’s the absolute opposite. There’s people listening, hearing this kind of ambient, textual, organic thing going on with violins and mandolins and stuff, and absolutely loving it. It’s turned out to be much better than I ever hoped it would be.
It’s quite rare for an artist to do what you’re doing…
Especially an album that’s not – here in the UK – overly well known. It’s not like I’m doing the Vienna album or the first solo album or something. Hardcore fans would always get it. But for the partners, I’m thinking: “Are they going to go along to the bar when they’re bored?” But they’re not. It’s good.
Has it made you want to tour any of your other albums in the same way?
I think I might have to think about it in the not too distant future because this has worked incredibly well, but I think it’s worked incredibly well because I’ve found the right guys to go out and do this with. The two guys I use on stage, these multi-instrumentalist guys, are a band in their own right called the India Electric Company. They do their own set before me, and they’ve been going down brilliantly. Young guys, proper talents, playing good old violin and mandolin and accordion and guitar and whatever. So then they come back on again and we do the stuff together, so I think the key to me relaxing into this and enjoying the whole process is the fact that I can trust these guys to do a good job.
Are there any albums from other artists you’d like to hear performed in their entirety?
I remember going to see David Bowie doing two albums. He did his new album at the time, but I remember wanting to see the other album he did which was Low. So he did both albums on stage, back-to-back, and it was just spectacular to hear Low performed live was great because they did it in a very authentic way; they didn’t try and tart up the songs and give them dance grooves and stuff, they just did it as it should be done and that was fabulous.
Over the last 20-25 years I’ve been going out and performing totally on my own and I would love to see more artists doing that. I’d love to see Kate Bush sat at a piano, playing The Kick Inside or whichever, and just hear someone doing something brilliantly. There’s a buzz that you get when you’re standing in close proximity to someone who does something brilliantly. I got it when I was standing beside Eric Clapton, just ourselves in an empty room and it’s a buzz hearing that. And I got it with Mick Karn from Japan and Mark King from Level 42 – watching people excel at what they do.
So I think that intimacy, that close proximity, that genius that you can see coming from their fingers and hearing it in your head is a wonderful thing. And it’s a pity when you can only get to see that when you’re one of 10, 000 people watching it, and you end up watching on a screen as opposed to watching the artist on stage! So I think the artists should just take the steel rod out their backsides and just get down and get dirty with the people.
And if not on the screen then through someone else phone screen in front of you…
That’s another major gripe of mine! Why do people film those moments when you can remember them? When are they ever going to sit down and watch their phone and thing, “I love this”? They’re not. It’s nonsense.
I’ve even had to watch through an iPad held in front of me.
That’s hideous. They’re losing the moment! Just looking at the screens, it’s bizarre.
Your album Fragile was only released last year, is there a lot of focus on that in the set list too?
I’m doing two tracks. I thought about this long and hard, just as I thought about what standards and old hits you could rework in this format, and I had to be very selective about what I thought would work. So I’m doing the title track and I’m doing ‘Become’, which was the first single from it, and they’re working really well. But the real oddities are some of the old Ultravox things that I’m doing. ‘Vienna’ works incredibly well because of the violin and things. But I’m doing some of the more obscure tracks – ‘Lament’, ‘All Fall Down’ – which really lend themselves to this, much more than I thought they would. I can go from these acoustic versions of ‘Fade To Grey’ and then go straight into the entire Breathe album and it’s seamless. It’s bizarre how it works.
So the hits are still there but with a sort of celtic make over?
I’d be hung drawn and quartered if I didn’t do the hits that people expect to hear. When I go and see artists there’s key songs that I want to come away singing in my head, and I’d be very miffed, regardless of how well they performed and what songs they played, if I didn’t hear the stand out tracks. So I’m aware that people want to hear ‘If I Was’ and ‘Vienna’ and whatever else, we’ve just kind of reworked some of those.
It’s also just been announced that you’re taking part in the 80s Invasion tour early next year…
Dreadful name! Good tour, dreadful name. 80s Invasion… It’s awful! You get the image of a bunch of old men in wheel chairs hacking things down.
And do you enjoy these sorts of tours?
I do, but it’s a very specific thing. It’s all about playing the hits. You go there, you play the hits and you play them well, and they’re great fun. You’re not there to educate an audience, you’re there to entertain an audience. The line up’s great, there Big Country – they’re a great rock band, so it’s going to be a very guitar orientated show, with Haircut 100 and all of that. It should be a bit of fun.
Obviously Ultravox numbers will be a big part of the set, but the band are still technically still together. Are there any future plans?
The last thing we did was a year and a half ago, we did some shows with Simple Minds, we did the O2 and it was great. A very compatible package. But we all do different things; when we got back together again we were under no illusion that we were going to relive our youth and go back and be a full time permanent band again. Just the fact that we’d actually spoke was a major, major moment, and that fact that we picked up some instruments and played together. So I think the idea was that we’d just put it on a shelf and wait until we came up with something or something came our way that we thought was interesting. And not necessarily get together as a full time band and just write and write and release and release and tour and tour and tour. It just doesn’t work that way anymore. So the band is very much just smouldering in the corner, ready to be fired up at will.
It’s a nice way to go about it, though. There was some controversy surrounding a-ha’s reunion this year after five years away and a farewell tour.
It’s an old trick, unfortunately. I think Thin Lizzy used to do it an awful lot. When ticket sales were flagging they’d announce “this is the final tour” so people go out and buy the tickets to see it, and of course it’s not really the final. I think Simply Red seem to be doing it as well. It’s just one of those things, promoters like to play tricks and pull strings. But I don’t think there’s any point in doing that stuff. If you’re going to do it, do it for the love of doing it, don’t do it just to top up your bank balance. And I have to say, the Ultravox stuff was great fun to do, but we spent every penny that we earned and put it on stage. We wanted to leave people with something to remember and that’s exactly what we did. If we do it again that’s exactly what we’ll do again.
As well as celebrating 20 years since Breathe was released, it’s also 30 since Live Aid. Was there ever a plan to organise another event?
There wasn’t a plan to do Band Aid 30, it was one of those things that came up and bit us from behind. No, there are no plans to do another Live Aid. Doing it the first time around was a logistical nightmare. Getting people to do a record is easy, as soon as you start getting TV rights and multiple countries involved it’s a lawyer’s dream. People trying to protect their rights and people ripping things off and bootlegs of performance and all that… As I speak right now there are no plans whatsoever, and it’s a bit late in the day to get anything together. “I’ll just throw together a global concert!” It doesn’t happen that way.
The original Live Aid is often referred to as a day that changed music. Do you ever watch footage back?
Only when it crops up on television. I was pleasantly surprised at the Ultravox section of it, it was actually really good – we were petrified at using the technology, which was incredibly basic at the time, with no sound check. The drum machine could die in the middle of ‘Vienna’ or the bass synth wouldn’t work or whatever, but it all happened! And for those days without any monitoring or sound check so to speak, I actually sang pretty well and in tune.
Together yourself and Bob Geldof wrote one of the biggest selling songs in history, is there a reason you never thought about collaborating again?
Did you hear the first one?! Bob and I are probably better being friends than workmates. The first one worked because Bob was the lyric guy and I was the music guy. I managed to put together his meandering melody into something that was coherent, and while he sat on my telephone for four days ringing all the artists and bludgeoning them into being there, I spent the four days playing away instruments and producing the track. So it kind of worked because we had our independent roles, but the two of us in a room trying to write songs together? You’d have to take away the sharp knives!
You’ve been a member of Slik, Rich Kids, Thin Lizzy, Visage, Ultravox, but perhaps joining The Boomtown Rats isn’t going to be your next band?
No… No, no, no, no. Hanging out with Bob’s great – he’s funny and he’s fabulous – but I imagine he’s a bit of a task master if he’s a leader of your band. Too many cooks and that…
“Give us yer fucking microphone!”
Yeah! The last thing I need is Geldof telling me how to play the guitar.
Tickets for the Breathe Again tour and the 80s Invasion tour can be purchased through Midge Ure’s official website.