Midge Ure of Ultravox is currently making his way across North America with his Live + Electric Tour. Ure is coming to The Complex in Salt Lake City on Monday January 16, 2017. Prior to his stop here in town, I had the opportunity to interview him. I believe our conversation will be of interest to any New Wave, New Romantic, or Electro music fan. I split my time during this interview between mustering as much journalistic integrity I possess and just totally geeking out. I’m a huge Ultravox fan, so this was an absolute delight for me. I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I had conducting it.
Utah Concert Review: Hello Mr. Ure. Where might you be calling in from tonight?
Midge Ure: I’m in deepest darkest Germany today.
UCR: Wow, well how’s the tour going so far?
MU: It’s been going really well. It’s a kind of a three piece, mainly acoustic stuff I’ve been doing. It’s a tour called “Something from Everything”. I’m trying to play something from every album that I’ve done since 1978. So I’m choosing songs from Ultravox right through to now. So it’s been going incredibly well because a lot of the songs I have never performed live before.
UCR: When you tour the states early next year, will you be continuing with this type of show, or will you be playing with a full band?
MU: No, we’ve already done the first leg of the US tour back in October. We did the East Coast and up into Canada. So we’re picking that back up again starting in Vancouver and working our way across the West Coast through Salt Lake City, and down to Texas and finishing up in Nashville. This tour we’ll be using two American multi-instrumentalist musicians. One of whom I’ve worked with before. It’s basically a three piece power trio, but using synthesizers as well. So we’re trying to incorporate a bit of everything.
UCR: I recently read a tweet from you where you were expressing frustration that someone in the front row was doing a lot of texting while you were performing. I have to say that this is something that drives me nuts! I think it’s so disrespectful.
MU: (Laughing) Yeah.
UCR: You’ve been touring for decades now, aside from people using their smart phone during concerts, whether to text or to record some of the performance, what else has changed over that time for you?
MU: Although I was tweeting about the annoyance of technology and the way people use it, it’s not about me and my ego. It’s not, ‘How dare they not listen to me!’. It’s the fact that people will sit in theaters and in cinemas and they’ll look at their phones. Some will even make phone calls! And you think, that’s just not the right thing to do. So, although I was moaning about technology, I think the big change is technology. The fact that an artist or a band can sit on the computer and book their own flights, book their own car hire, and they can liaise with venues on the road. And you can do it on the phone while you’re touring as well. You don’t need a massive office. You don’t need a huge road crew. You have to know what you’re doing of course, but the level I’m doing America right now, I could not have done this twenty years ago. I could not have gone out without a road crew, or without a tour manager, you know, no one there to kind of back you up. You’d need that kind of infrastructure. Now you don’t need that. You can kind of just do it yourself.
UCR: That reminds me of when OMD reunited back in, I think around 2007. After a successful European tour, they wanted to come here to the states and tour. Concert promoters wouldn’t advance the money to put the tour together. I guess they didn’t think they had the audience in America anymore. So OMD decided to put the tour together on their own. And it was a huge success, and they’ve been touring here ever since. So to speak to your point, it seems it is possible now to tour without relying on others. The advancements in technology allowed you to do it on your own. It that pretty much what you’re saying?
MU: Absolutely. I have to look back over the years with me, or with Ultravox or whatever, and I find a twenty-year hole or a twenty-year gap where when I stopped being with major labels. I seemed to lose all connection with the US and Canada. As I did with Australia and New Zealand and Japan. I seemed to have lost this flow. So I had no way to get back in again. So like you say with OMD, people ask you, “Well, how much do you go out for?” and you tell them, and they say “No, we haven’t heard from you in twenty years. Why would we pay you that kind of money? Everyone has forgotten about you.” If you’re determined to do it like OMD were, and like I am, I mean, I’ve toured the states maybe three or four times the last few years because I chose to do it. I don’t need to do it. But I chose to do it because maybe there’s a chip on my shoulder saying ‘Why did Ultravox never happen in America?’. Even though I know the answer, it still kind of grinds a little bit. So I choose to come out to America and do it on a much lower level than I would in Europe or anywhere else really.
UCR: Ok, so I have to know then, what are the reasons Ultravox didn’t happen in America?
MU: It’s probably a variety of answers. This is a pick and mix. You can throw just the answers in a big pot and mix them up and that’s the reason. Initially, only the coasts really got Ultravox, at least as far as we were concerned. I’m not sure Ultravox ever played Salt Lake City, I don’t think we were ever in Utah. As far as we were concerned, it was College radio. College radio got Ultravox. When we arrived first in New York, we were interviewed by a newspaper and this guy says, this is in around 1978, and the guy says “You guys speak really good English.” And being British, we’re like “Yeah”. He says, “I thought you were Germans.” I think he had us mixed up with Kraftwerk. And that was part of the problem. The majority of America didn’t understand us. They didn’t get what it was. The record label was distraught that the Vienna album had an eight-minute instrumental as the opening track. And they didn’t get it because radio played Styx, Boston, and Foreigner. Corporate middle of the road rock. So there was no space for something like us. We were like the very point of the ship, and we got broken off. And the bit that came behind us, got in. So we kind of helped to pave the way for the Depeche Mode’s, and the Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, and whoever to follow through. That’s part of the reason. The other part is when we toured America, which we did a few times, we could work our way up to performing places like the Avery Fisher Hall in New York, where they wouldn’t let amplifiers in there, but they let Ultravox in there because they saw Ultravox as art. And we would play two to three thousand capacity theaters. And then beyond that, the next step, the obvious step was to open for a bigger band. But we insisted on playing absolutely everything live. There was nothing pre-programmed. This was a logistical and technical nightmare because we didn’t have time to do a proper sound check. So we stalemated at 3,000 capacity venues and we just kind of fell back and disappeared.
UCR: It must have been so frustrating to not have the necessary support from the media and your label when you had such a huge fan base everywhere else.
MU: Of course I can see exactly where it all collapsed and fell apart. Our record label didn’t understand us. We were having number one records in the UK, and not seeing anything reciprocated in America. I can’t begin to tell you how hideously frustrating that was. Ultravox would step off the plane to come and do a tour to promote an album, and the record company would say “Never mind guys, we’ll get them next time.” And I would say ‘Well, hold on, the album’s just come out. How could it be dead in the water before we ever played a note? How could this possibly be?’ It was because we were a square peg, and they were trying to push us into a round hole. It just wasn’t going to happen. They knew how to do Billy Idol, Pat Benatar and Huey Lewis and the News, and all that, but they had no idea what to do with us.
UCR: Sometimes it’s amazing that these people are in the music business. It would seem they rarely know what they’re doing.
Other than maybe the size of the venues you perform in, what would you say makes a concert in America different than a concert overseas?
MU: You know what, there’s really not a massive difference I have to say. Audiences react similarly all over the world. There are subtle changes between audiences but American audiences tend to be a bit louder than European audiences. Although, these days I supposed European audiences emulate American audiences with the shouting and screaming, whoopin’ and hollerin’ so maybe the UK and Europe audiences have caught up with how audiences react in American. But there’s not a huge difference anymore. I’m quite surprised at the level of reaction I get in America when I play what I think is probably quite obscure material. The audience knows the songs! The last time I played Salt Lake City was with the Retro Futura tour with Tom Bailey (Thompson Twins), Howard Jones, China Crisis, and I’m thinking well I haven’t been in Salt Lake City in ages, so no one is going to know me at all. But I walk on stage and the whole place stands up and sang all my songs. I was completely and utterly blown away. So in my mind, my perception is, no one knows me except for hardcore fans that really get into the music and know my place in the chain, my little link in the chain. When I was in Salt Lake I spoke to the audience afterward and I was signing stuff, and they said there was one radio station there that was a New Wave station and they played Ultravox and that type of music all the time, so they all knew the songs!
UCR: What was the first concert you attended?
MU: Now this is going to sound bizarre, but the first one I remember buying a ticket was for Black Sabbath, but they didn’t turn up. On the bill was Family who were a 60’s and 70’s rock band and another band. So I watched the other two bands. I went to see Black Sabbath because my brother bought their album and I was 15 and wanted to be cool.
UCR: With touring a lot yourself I’m sure you don’t have time to see a lot of concerts, but is there any band that you would like to see or that you make a point to see.
MU: I’d love to see Sigur Rós. They’re an Icelandic band well worth checking out. Really interesting music. But they don’t tour very often. The last person I saw that I deliberately went to see was Kate Bush. But I was completing the circle because I saw her first shows she did in London back in 1978. But yeah, if there is someone I really want to see I’ll make a concerted effort to go see them. However, I’m a bit over going to sticky carpeted clubs.
UCR: Eliminating Live Aid from your options, because that I’m sure was its own incredible experience on its own, what is one of your concerts that stands out to this day?
MU: Yes, there was a very famous venue in Glasgow back in the 70’s and 80’s, called the Glasgow Apollo. After the single Vienna was successful, therefore the album was successful, Ultravox played the Apollo for the first time. I walked on to a roar I had never experienced before in my life! There were 4,000 people screaming, just shouting their heads off because it was my home city. Walking on there and performing in the venue that I saw T-Rex and many other bands perform. I saw them all on that stage, and to walk on that stage and receive that ovation, was an experience I’ll never ever forget. And it never gets as good as that again. It doesn’t matter where you play, how big the venue is, or how magnificent the event might be, that first time you feel that it’s the best time ever!
UCR: Thank you, Mr. Ure. I really appreciate you taking the time. It has truly been an honor. I’m really looking forward to the show.
MU: Hopefully you’ll hear a lot of things you’ll recognize. I’ll be doing more Ultravox songs on this set than I ever have outside of Ultravox. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s good fun.
Click here to purchase tickets to Midge’s Live + Electric show. Keep in mind this is a 21+ show. Hope to see you there!