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Interview with singer and songwriter Midge Ure

Explore Liverpool Music Writer, Matt Jacobson interviews singer/songwriter, Midge Ure.

“They kept going on and on and on about fishing, but the music and the entertainment industry generates gazillions more and it’s just been left to rot.“

Midge Ure recently joined the British Music Experience (BME) for an evening with Ronnie Gurr publisher of Hanging Around Books. Midge Ure mixed interviews with acoustic songs including ‘Fade to Grey’,’Vienna’ and ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. The adoring crowd lapped up the songs and MIdge Ure captivated all talking all things; early influences, career highs and lows and once using a microphone used by John Lennon.

I caught up with Midge to discuss current events such as Lockdown, the trepidation of touring and memorabilia.

Lockdown, I felt the music industry was veering off a cliff and nothing was going to save it. As an artist, did you feel that danger or threat to the industry?

The general public only sees the artist, they don’t see the infrastructure that’s there, the infrastructure that holds the artist up and puts them on the stage. They don’t see the people that light the stage or the people that amplify the sounds, they don’t see the people that drive the artist from here to there and they don’t see the people that organise the whole thing. 

The entire industry was decimated, there was no funding, there was no Furlough for any of those guys. There was alot of suicides in the industry… if you imagine a PA or sound company with mixing desks worth £150,000, £200,000 or £300,000 they still have to pay for them, they were sat in warehouses with no income coming in but everything going out. It was horrendous for the industry, horrendous.! Now magnify with Brexit and you have an almighty timebomb. Artists can’t get into Europe anymore. We are not allowed to tour anymore. It’s a complete nightmare.

I was part of a group of people that put a letter on the front of The Times demanding that the Government start looking at this, because it’s a multi billion pound industry. Not just music, but the arts, theatre, dance etc and it needs help. They kept going on and on and on about fishing, but the music and the entertainment industry generates gazillions more and it’s just been left to rot. 

Did the Government act on the letter that was published in The Times?

It’s still going on, there are various factions out there all fighting for it and it’s splintered because they are all dealing with different things. Some are dealing with streaming, artists get paid  0.004 pence per stream so you can have plenty of streams and can’t afford a nice meal. Some are dealing with Brexit and touring and some are dealing with the industry itself.

Did lockdown halt creativity or provide more time to be creative?

I’ve always had a career that consisted of 50% of my time being touring and since the early 80’s I’ve always had my own facility with keyboards etc, but these days all you need is a computer and keyboards! But yes, I found myself with three projects and albums on the go and you don’t normally find me with three albums on the go! Being static and being bored very quickly ended up with me with all these things going on at once. Being creative is not a problem, it’s the other 50%, of actually going out and performing that I missed, where you get the kickback from an audience, kickback from meeting people, kickback from doing stuff is the bit that I really missed.

Interview with singer and songwriter Midge Ure
Midge Ure at the BME – Photograph by Michelle Marshall

In terms of touring, do you feel trepidation because of what’s going on now with the new variant? 

Yes, I think we are worried about it again, because it seems like we have gone full cycle from this time last year, it looks like quite a few tours are being pulled and people are cutting their losses. I’ve just come back from America, playing a solo acoustic tour and the audience was 50% down, people bought the tickets but people are scared to go out. So there is trepidation about the next move from the government or scientists – is there gonna be a lockdown, will venues close again? But you have to act like its all definitely happening and go ahead and see that point on the horizon and keep running towards it until someone builds a wall and you can’t get over it.

Playing live , how would you describe the first ten yards of walking on stage to a live audience? 

You don’t get nervous, you only get nervous if you haven’t rehearsed and you don’t know what you’re doing, so you should be nervous! You get excited and there’s a buzz that never goes away. It’s like when you hear your record on the radio for the first time, there’s a buzz and everyone will tell you that. It doesn’t matter how jaded they are or how long in the tooth they are there’s that buzz about your record, on the radio, getting played through peoples speakers! If you walk on stage and you don’t feel that buzz then you shouldn’t be walking on stage.

How would you describe the last ten yards of walking off stage?

Well it depends on the audience (laughs) –  if it’s been a bad night then the ten yards are much shorter! You can cover the ten yards much quicker than usual!! (laughs). 

With so many songs to choose from, how do you select songs for your setlist?

Well it depends if it’s a themed tour such as next year’s tour is concentrating on Ultravox, Rage in Eden album and Quartet album. So i’m gonna choose from them and they haven’t been played for 30 odd years or so. And I’ll play the songs that people expect to hear, 50% of the audience that come generally don’t want to be there! They have been dragged along by their significant other half, so it’s only fair they get to hear the two songs they know!! (laughs)

Liverpool has a rich history of music – do you feel that vibe when you head to the city to play live? 

Well Liverpool is the Glasgow of the South – and I know you feel you are Northern but I’m  slightly more Northern than you!! But we are the same character, the Glaswegian character and the Liverpool character are so similar in humour and attitude. I’ve played Eric’s and The Empire and it’s always been electric. I don’t know why certain cities have that and it could be the fact we are riverside cities and in the 1950’s they also heard American music from the sailors arriving at the ports. So there is something in the air and steeped in history. With Liverpool connected to Ireland and Glasgow, there is something about that triangle. The accents are both unfathomable!! (laughs)

We are in the British Music Experience (BME), home of memorabilia. I myself have curated two events here celebrating the music of The Smiths and Morrissey and my treasured item is Morrissey’s shirt from a gig in Liverpool. What is your favorite item of memorabilia that you have ?

Well, I had memorabilia in a museum in Scotland celebrating Scottish music. I had on display and still have at home the coat I was wearing in the Vienna video and the guitar I was using at Live Aid. I am not a huge memorabilia collector but I feel it was important for my daughters for them to remain in the estate as such. They are normal things but they have importance because of their association with events such as Live Aid. But you can’t keep everything, I’d have to move my furniture out. (laughs) 

I had Mick Ronson’s guitar in my flat for six months, he had nowhere to live and asked me to mind it for him. I then saw him open up on the Ziggy Stardust tour with that guitar! There’s something about iconic items that bring you closer to the artist. There is something special about places like here (the BME) that are really important to show people those very items.

Thank you for your time and very best wishes for the future.

Thank you Matt, and you too.

Matt Jacobson

Explore LIverpool

READ MORE: Matt Jacobson interviews The Sway

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