Midge Ure Interview Part 2 – Essigfabrik, Cologne, October 2022
A new series of in depth conversations with Richard Rogers, A&R man, Music Consultant and Artist Manager and our Music2deal UK/Eire/Malta partner.
Our first guest is no less than the legendary multi-instrumentalist Midge Ure, famous as the man behind Slik. Rich Kids, Ultravox, Visage and of course Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ which he both produced and wrote the music for.
In part two of a two part conversation, Midge and Richard discuss A&R, Ultravox, Abba, Fragile, Pure, Brilliant, music publishing, Band Aid, advice to artists and songwriters on Music2deal and a possible Ultravox reformation.
Richard Rogers (RR): One song that I felt was massively underrated was the Ultravox song Lament from the album of the same name. I don’t know who your A&R man was at chrysalis records but I always felt that they put out the correct singles from the album but not necessarily in the correct order. What do you feel about that? For example, Dancing With Tears In My Eyes came out as the second single after the song One Small Day.
Midge Ure (MU): there are lots of things. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why some singles came out before other songs. Or why the ones that did come out of singles, why we ever chose them in the first place! And you’ve got to remember that a lot of this had to do with us being a live working band, you know what it’s like, you spend three months working in a studio making Rage In Eden or whatever and then you are straight out on tour. While you are out on tour the record company says to you, okay we now need the second single now, and you say yes but hang on we’re out in Australia. So they say well how about doing such and such and you say oh yeah yeah yeah that’s okay that will do because you are so far removed from what it is that that they are actually doing and so you just leave it in other peoples hands. That is a major problem.
RR: what I found doing A&R was that so many idiots were performing in an A&R capacity and had absolutely no idea what they were doing. I’ve just written a book about ABBA and A&R and you’re in it. You are probably thinking what on earth am I doing in a book on ABBA. It is about the A&R process on the new ABBA album. And why all the songs are in the wrong order on the album, why they chose the wrong singles blah blah blah. I mention in the book the Ultravox U-Vox album and why for me the song Same Old Story should never have been the first single of that Ultravox album.
MU: yes yes I agree.
RR: the other two singles from the album were All In One Day.
MU: and the other was All Fall Down with The Chieftains.
RR: so the album came out with the first single Same Old Story which as I say wasn’t a good choice for a single. But on the album there was a fantastic song called Sweet Surrender. For me hands down it was the best song on the album by a long way.
MU: okay right.
RR: it’s a blinder.
MU: wow it’s not something I really thought of.
RR: I liked it to the extent that I was inspired to write a song based on Sweet Surrender which is a country song and it is called ‘Calm That Beating Heart’.
MU: wow, please send it to me. You have to remember that I had been away from the band for two years up to that point when we did the record and it is a very disjointed record. You know, working with The Chieftains, working with George Martin on the orchestrated stuff on ‘All In One Day’ and we were doing brass sections. And we were a lost band, so there was no eye kept on that (album). We didn’t really have A&R guys. Chrysalis when they were signing us or when they were interested in signing us, kept trying to get us into a demo studio and we kept turning them down saying you can come down to the rehearsals and hear how the songs are going and stuff. Chrysalis said we have to have something to play to somebody to sign you, we have to justify signing you. Eventually they just said ‘just have two studio days and go into Air Studios and record something. Anything’ and we did.
We did ‘Sleepwalk’ and came out with a master and gave them one song and said there you go. They signed us on the strength of that. After that they let us be hung by our own petard. We made the records, they had no involvement with that, we chose the studios and the producers and how we wanted to do it, we did the graphics, we did the artwork, the sleeves and we ended up directing the videos and we would present the finished thing to them. So there was no real A&R intervention from them for Ultravox which was really unusual as no one would give you that kind of leeway and freedom. It was a strange scenario and very different from most bands, we knew exactly what we wanted and we didn’t want anybody to guide us. But you are right on the single front because we could have done with somebody with a bit more push.
RR: I find that so many bands even now don’t choose the correct singles from an album and again a lot of the A&R people don’t guide them well. I always say that A&R is an art form and a science.
MU: yeah okay. You are right.
RR: which of the songs do you feel that you’ve written over the years should have been released as singles and could have been hits?
MU: Oh god, um I think the one that I’ve realised in the last couple of years is ‘Death In The Afternoon,’ an Ultravox song.
RR: I Remember.
MU: (Laughs) we are playing it tonight and on the tour and it’s just a joy to play. It was a song that was completely dismissed and forgotten about, just an album track and it was gone. Then I think with the passage of time, it makes you look back at some of the stuff that you’ve done in the past and you kind of frown upon it and I don’t know why you do. It was just what people do and you look back and you think, yeah well I’m not sure, it wasn’t that good. I don’t listen to my stuff but you have to when you play it again and you’re looking at doing an entire album like on this tour with ‘Quartet’ and ‘Rage In Eden’. You’ve got to go back and listen to it so you can figure out what you were doing and sometimes you’re really pleasantly surprised. Most times you just wanna slash your wrists and think what was I thinking but every so often you go, ‘oh hold on a second I’d forgotten that this was that good’. Particularly these days with Chrysalis who have been blue raincoat and have been re-packaging a lot of the old stuff and I’ve been listening to a lot of the old recordings that I can’t remember doing including a lot of the live stuff.
I sit there and I think ‘bloody hell, what a killer band Ultravox were’ and I hear the live recordings and I know what we had on stage and I cannot remember how we made that noise! Nothing was on tape, nothing was sequenced, everything was played live, just the four of us out there making a hell of a racket. It was great, so when you go back and find stuff you think okay okay that was a good one. I agree with you on ‘Lament’, ‘Lament’ should have been a much bigger record. I also think that ‘All Fall Down’ should have been a big record as well, it had all the elements and it was one of those ones that was between the cracks and the floorboards, the way that ‘Vienna’ could easily have gone. Easily, easily disappeared and never been played on the radio, but that is the luck of the draw really.
RR: Which is your personal favourite solo album?
MU: I am particularly pleased with the ‘Fragile’ album which is the last album. That was four or five years ago now. I was with BMG and they were trying desperately trying to do the A&R thing saying we’ve signed you as a multifaceted artist, you can direct and you can produce and you can write for other people and you can do film scores and you can do all this stuff and I thought, ‘great fantastic’.
Then they said to me have you ever thought about not producing the next one yourself and I said ‘yeah well fine if you can find the right person’. Then they said, ‘have you thought about not doing it in your own studio?’ and I said ‘yeah’ and then they said ‘have you ever thought about getting in different musicians?’ and I said ‘what? Do you still want me to sing it and write it?’. So I said ‘look you’re trying to change everything about me and you’re telling me that you signed me because you love everything I do and now you’re saying you want to change everything, it’s like a marriage.’ So I went to them with a pile of stuff for the ‘Fragile’ album and they said ‘no you can’t do this you’ve been dropped by the label’. They then said ‘no don’t do it on your own, don’t do it on your own’.
So I did it on my own and I was ecstatic with it, I was really pleased and it was the best reviewed and rated album that I’d ever done. And I didn’t do it on my own because it was nepotism, I did it on my own because it took about five or six years to write and record and it was much easier for me to piece all these jigsaw pieces together to make a big picture than pulling loads of musicians and watch it get lost. The ‘Pure’ album was also quite good because that was quite a different animal for me and I used a lot of different musicians for it. I think ‘Pure’ is the one with Kate Bush on it. I pulled in a lot of good people around me to make something that I thought was glorious and made a glorious noise.
RR: so you are very happy with it?
MU: yeah you’re as happy as you can be given the passage of time. If you go back and look at something you did 40 years ago and you think it was perfect then there’s something wrong with you, you know you’ve stood still. You’ve not progressed one iota. You should be able to go back and look at stuff and go oh well if I had done this. For the U-Vox album we would never have put brass on it, I don’t know what we were playing at.
RR: I assume that Ultravox is totally no more and will never happen again?
MU: as far as I know. Billy the keyboard player had released a solo album maybe four or five years ago and I think he was getting tired of people asking him about Ultravox and he said oh it’s finished I’m never doing that again, so nobody has spoken to him since then. But who knows, I’m the youngest in the band and I’m old so I’m not sure we’re going to go back there. Billy is a musical genius.
RR: so never say never I guess?
MU: well we said we’d never do it again 35 years ago and we ended up getting together and doing the ‘Brilliant’ album 10 years ago.
RR: ‘Brilliant’ was a superb album.
MU: I was very proud of that record, I mean who would’ve thought that any of us would have any spark. I mean most of us haven’t spoken to each other for years, let alone play music together. But within the first couple of weeks we went out to a house in Canada, out there just the three of us and bought some laptops and keyboards and a guitar and we wrote five things in those two weeks and I had them half recorded on the laptops. So it was a really vibrant thing. It was fabulous.
RR: so should I get in contact with Billy then?
MU: absolutely. Why not? We seem to do it much faster than I take doing solo records that’s for sure.
RR: but you are still writing?
MU: I’m still writing but no one is banging on my door. I mean you worked for companies like Warner/Chappell and the last publishing deal that I did was in 1986 with Warners and they gave me a big pile of money and I never heard from them again. I’ve never signed another publishing deal since then. It’s crazy, it’s crazy.
RR: from an A&R angle I urge any emerging artists and songwriters to have the five D’s to make the music industry work for them, Dedication, Determination, Desire, Drive and Direction. What advice would you have for any young bands or songwriters on Music2deal trying to get into the industry from an artist/songwriter viewpoint, what would you say to them?
MU: nothing comes easy. Don’t watch other peoples success and think it’s all happening to them. Success happens on many many different levels. You can be hugely successful in music without having commercial success by writing something that someone hears on the other side of the planet that resonates with them that saves a life. It can make them happy, it can make them smile, it can get them engaged or married, that’s the power of music and you don’t have to be in the charts to have that. Write and write and write and when you’re tired write some more. That’s it, that’s what it’s all about and enjoy it, it’s not all great and there are bits of my life that people have said oh I’m sure you would’ve wanted to change that. Really? I don’t think so. Slik no, if I had not been in Slik then I would not have been in the Rich Kids, if I had not of been in the Rich Kids then I would never have met Rusty Egan and bought a synthesiser and never put Visage together and then I would never have joined Ultravox and I would never of done Band Aid and I would never of done Live Aid. So they all connect, so you can’t go oh I’ll just take this bit out because it doesn’t look good on the CV.
RR: did you have a favourite Visage track? I saw you play ‘The Dancer’ a couple of times.
MU: yes I’ve done ‘The Dancer’ and that was fun, that was the track that Rusty and I just knocked up that finally got Visage the deal. I did that song on the last tour that was called the 1980 Tour because both the Vienna album and the Visage album were released in 1980. In fact the entirety of the Vienna album and selections from the Visage album were played and that was the first time a lot of those songs were played for the first time because none of them were meant to be played live! ‘Mind Of A Toy’ was great to play and the track ‘Visage’ itself was great to play live.
RR: Midge, you used to have the record for having the most hits by a person under different names or pseudonyms than anybody else in the UK music charts. I don’t know if that record still stands.
MU: I’m not sure, well Ed Sheeran has had a few now and as a writer he’s had quite a few. But there were hits with Mick Karn, Rich Kids, Visage, Ultravox, Phil Lynott, Slik, Solo and Band Aid.
RR: Do you get fed up talking about Band Aid?
MU: No, not at all it was such a major thing in a lot of peoples lives. Not just our lives because we were doing it. It changed a lot of stuff.
RR: Was the backing track (to ‘Do They know It’s Christmas’) taken from the Ultravox song ‘White China’?
MU: No. I played all the instruments on the backing track. It was the same instruments though so the sounds that were used on ‘White China’ were the sounds I was using on my synths at the time. So they were the easy ‘go to’ sounds as I had to do it (the song) really quickly. That’s really interesting Richard, as no-one has ever mentioned that before. Yeah it’s the same PPG and the same mini Moog, the sounds we would have used. So next time you listen to it you think ‘take the vocals off it’ and it’s an Ultravox track, it just sounds like an Ultravox track.
RR: For me it is the best Christmas song ever.
MU: Thank you very much.
RR: Well for me it’s quite phenomenal because when they brought out USA For Africa, ‘We Are The World’ I hated it as it was so Americanised and syrupy. It’s everything I don’t believe in, it had no soul to it and you can shoot me down if you want to.
MU: No, nooooo. Look it did a great job but it was well… a bit cheesy. A bit American.
RR: Well I just wanted to say thank you very much for a wonderful chat.
MU: No, thank you.
After this interview I’d like to say a huge thanks to Midge for his time and agreeing to participate in both one of my own personal music projects and one of my art projects. Just a really great honest guy.
I also tried to get hold of Billy Currie in regards an Ultravox reformation but sadly received no reply to my correspondence.
Richard Rogers – Music2Deal Profile