Ahead of his concert at the Philharmonic Hall, music writer Matt Jacobson interviews singer-songwriter Midge Ure.
“When George Martin spoke to you, or suggested something, you would listen to every word.”
Following the overwhelming response to 2019’s ‘The 1980 Tour’, Midge Ure & Band Electronica are delighted to finally return to the road in 2023 with the ‘Voice & Visions’ tour, celebrating 40 years since the release of Ultravox’s Rage In Eden and Quartet albums.
At the start of 1981, Ultravox were laying their claim to be one of the defining acts of the 80s following the global success of hit ‘Vienna’. Heading back into the studio the same year invigorated, they recorded their second album with Ure as frontman, Rage in Eden, which hit the Top 5 in the UK album charts. Quartet, their third album with Ure, came in quick succession in 1982 with production from legendary Beatles producer George Martin. Continuing the band’s impressive chart run, it became their third Top 10 album, featuring four Top 20 singles including the anthem ‘Hymn’.
The ‘Voice & Visions’ tour started in 2022 and the extensive 2023 leg of the tour will begin at Sheffield City Hall on 24th April visiting an astounding 31 cities across the UK, including Liverpool 15th May before culminating at Swindon Meca on 31st May. Transporting fans back to the decade of electronics, experimentation, synthesizers and great songwriting, the album’s highlights will be showcased alongside some landmark hits.
Congratulations on the forthcoming tour, do you ever reflect and think back to your early days of touring?
Well this tour kind of took me back because I had to go back and remember how to play the songs! We are focusing on two Ultravox albums and I hadn’t really listened to them – I may have referenced them, but I had to learn them again and not only that I had to go and buy them online because I didn’t have the records! So yeah, it takes me back to how I had to do it! Ultravox were particular on how we played, so we didn’t use backing tracks as many bands do. We rehearsed for weeks and weeks and weeks. But these days all the sources are in a laptop, the songs are still difficult to play – but the technology has changed.
I presume the size of the tour bus has changed?
(laughs) – Well yes, we have one this time!! In years gone by, after 2 hours on stage we would go to a party, but these days we are knackered and crash out on the tour bus!
The Quartet album was produced by George Martin, how did that come about and what was he like to work with?
Producers do different things, for instance Connie Plank was much more an engineer and not too hands on with the musical arrangements. We achieved lots but we were changing producers and we had to pick someone we respected and admired. So, we had George in mind. He would sit by the piano and tell us to return to certain parts and work on it again and again.He would recommend harmonies to you and ask you to try different sounds. When George Martin spoke to you or asked you something, or suggested something, you had to listen to every word. He was the ultimate gentleman, a cross between your father to your favourite school teacher. And as for his stories, you would pay to listen to them!!
On the road, will it give you a chance to write any new material?
Well I’ve started new material, I have my own studio – which I built in 83/84. But these days you can write on a laptop, so I’ve been using all the equipment available. In lockdown I started writing and putting new ideas down, so I’ve just recorded an instrumental album and I’ve just half way through a new album. My last album was 7 years ago which is longer than most boy bands careers!
What motivates you to keep going, to write and record?
Some people are born to do it and I think I’m one – I’ve been singing since I was a young boy, my father bought me my first guitar and luck has also helped me since. It’s a dream to do what I do. Writing songs doesn’t come naturally to me, I have to work at it. And the longer I’ve done it the harder it becomes. Sometimes people think you are competing against other artists, which you are, but you are also competing with yourself to write something new and fresh. You don’t want to write a part two of something that you released years ago. So I take longer to write it.
On stage, do you get the same buzz when people are singing your songs back to you as you did in the early days?
You get the buzz from day one, it is always special that someone likes what you’ve put down. Just like a song from the 60s that remains in my mind. But yes the buzz is still there. You have to make the set work and if you’ve played a couple of slower atmospheric songs ill then play something like, Dancing With Tears in My Eyes.
So you’re taking people on a journey with the set?
Yes, you have to keep people away from looking at phones. 50% of the audience are with their other halves who don’t want to be there. So it’s also them you have to keep entertained. On stage you end up focusing on the one person who is on their phone, you don’t think about the hundreds not on their phones, it’s that one person, the phone lights up and you end up concentrating on it! (laughs)
Are you looking forward to playing Liverpool?
I love Liverpool, it’s the Glasgow of England. It’s full of characters. Liverpudlians are funny and warm and a hotspot for great music. My guitar from Live Aid and coat are housed in Liverpool.
In the British Music Experience?
Yes, part of me is in the museum.
And the other part of you is on tour?!
(Laughs) – exactly Matt!
Midge, thanks so much and very best wishes for the tour.
Thanks Matt, take care
With thanks to all,
Midge Ure plays the Philharmonic Hall – 15 May 2023