From hired gun in Thin Lizzy, to synthpop pioneer and co-writer of Do They Know It’s Christmas? Midge Ure has led a varied career.
After a couple of years of reinterpreting his extensive back catalogue in acoustic form, one of the musicians who helped popularise electronic music in the UK is plugging back in.
‘I’ve just come off doing the acoustic versions of all the songs, and thoroughly enjoyed it,’ says Midge Ure, ‘but I just felt a hankering, a desire, to strap on the electric guitar and get the synths out again and get back out and do this.’
The acoustic tour had been dubbed Something From Everything, and was literally that. Aside from Slik, the band he played in as guitarist during the mid-1970s, it delved into his time with The Rich Kids, Ultravox, Visage and his solo work.
This time out he is joined by his band Band Electronica, The Christians and Altered Images, on an extensive tour that kicked off in Glasgow at the start of this month, and winds its way to Portsmouth on November 9.
Ever the perfectionist, Midge worked hard on the set list.
‘It takes me a long time to delve into the past and decide what you want to play – there’s certain songs you have to play, certain songs you cannot get away with not playing, it’s then finding the more interesting things I think as a musician that people will accept. When you’re doing a tour like this it’s not all necessarily your fans, it’s a three-band package so there might be people there who’ve never seen you live and only know the hits, so you’ve got to give them those, that’s fine. And then there’s all this other stuff there, this wealth of material that I’ve not played since the Ultravox days, or maybe never even played live at all.
‘Trying to put together a cohesive set list that has the hits, the light and shade, the highs and lows, and still satisfy the audience and yourself, it’s a tall order. It’s not just a matter of throwing it together and playing a bunch of songs. A bit more thought gets put into it than that.’
And he admits that revisiting his older material throws up a range of emotions.
‘Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise. Other times, you can’t work out what you were thinking back in the day,’ he laughs. ‘Some are very much a product of the times, but that’s just the passing of time. I am sure that when I wrote those songs 35 years ago I was vehement they were the best I could do, and maybe it was the best I could do at the time, but 35 years on you find you’ve got different ideas and different views and opinions and hopefully got better at your craft. Some of the times it’s pleasant, sometimes it’s absolutely miserable.’
Sometimes you can’t work out what you were thinking back in the dayMidge Ure
For the acoustic tours, Midge has been joined onstage by skilled multi-instrumentalists Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe who perform in their own right as roots duo India Electric Company. Midge has asked them to join him again as part of the electric band.
‘I’m keeping them on their toes – this time they’re behind synthesizers, and playing basses, but they’re such talented lads, they’ve been absolutely perfect for what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years.
‘But trying to find someone who can play the violin solo in Vienna, and the keyboards and get his head around modern electronics is a tall order, and these guys fit that bill.’
Cole once told The Guide that Midge makes a mean frittata. Is this true?
He chuckles at the question: ‘When the boys come here to do bits of work in the studio or to rehearse, the two of them look like they’ve just woken up and been pulled out of a cardboard box, so they always look like they could do with a good meal. Maybe it’s my parental instincts kicking in. My wife and I feed them up.’
Midge’s career hasn’t always followed the most obvious path. He tells how his desire to explore electronic music, along with the band’s drummer Rusty Egan, split up The Rich Kids, which led directly to them forming Visage – most famous for the hit Fade To Grey. For a stretch he was in both Visage and Ultravox. The latter band’s single Vienna was famously kept off the number one spot by Joe Dolce’s novelty hit, Shaddap You Face.
‘It looks like I’ve jumped around a lot over the years, but I’ve just morphed into different things. I started as a guitarist first and foremost, the first band I was in, Slik, had a number one in the mid-70s, but I didn’t write it, it wasn’t my song, I feel like being in Slik was a weird little hiccup in a way. But then maybe if that hadn’t happened, none of the rest of it would have happened, so I wouldn’t take it away.’
Midge is planning to tour the Band Electronica abroad in the new year, but in the meantime he also has a new album, Orchestrated, due out on December 1.
I’ve been doing a huge amount of live stuff for the past couple of years so I haven’t had the chance to do much in the studio, but I have started writing for a new album. Also in the past year I’ve been working on an orchestrated album of Ultravox and solo stuff. I’ve been working on that for a long time. I want to do it properly, not just stick out Vienna with some strings. I wanted to look at a lot of the music and give it the full cinematic treatment. Slapping strings on is easy, that’s a week’s work, but going back and looking at the arrangement and really getting your teeth into it, that takes a long, long time.’
n Midge Ure is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Thursday, November 9. Doors 7pm. Tickets £31.80-£36.85. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk.