Midge Ure Interview – Essigfabrik, Cologne, Wednesday 5th 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 one of a two part conversation, Midge and Richard discuss live music after Covid, Kate Bush, Hans Zimmer, Mick Karn, Bauhaus, The Princes Trust and the single that never was.
Midge Ure (MU): So you were managing Mick Karn! (Mick and Midge released the hit single ‘After A Fashion’ way back in 1983)
Richard Rogers (RR): Yes I was looking after Mick Karn until about one year before he died and we released the ‘Selected’ album. Mick had been unwell for quite a while before he passed away but he was a great man to manage and very sympathetic and he also helped me through some ordeals in life. He had been working with Pete Murphy from Bauhaus in that final year.
MU: I think Pete Murphy has recently just had to pull his American tour because he got into trouble. Bauhaus were out touring and they had to pull the dates. I believe that he possibly had a drinking or drugs problem. But I’m not 100% sure. So they’ve only just started the shows and I read today that they are not cancelled but postponed, but they are still going to do them.
RR: So Music2deal is an online professional music community and music business website that has been going quite a few years. The idea is to get people in the music industry working together and to get deals done.
MU: Sounds like a good idea. Really great.
RR: So this current tour based on the ‘Quartet’ and ‘Rage In Eden’ albums had previously been postponed I assume due to Covid.
MU: Well actually it has been postponed twice due to Covid. For the industry side of things it has been difficult as all the deals were done in 2019. So we based the cost of the tour on the 2019 figures. Of course, It doesn’t relate to what we are doing right now. Everything has escalated in value so much. PA, lights, trucking, hotels et cetera. Everything has gone up. So we decided I had to pull the tour again or bite the bullet and that’s what I decided to do, just go out and do it no matter what because I think that eventually people will start to doubt your honesty. Postpone once and they can understand it, postpone it twice and the public start to doubt you, and of course you can no longer get tour insurance. So no matter what, we were going to go out and tour this time. So if I catch Covid then of course everything grinds to a halt. And of course everything still has to be paid for.
RR: And this tour is with a full band?
MU: Yes full band, full lighting, full rig. Nightline are out there which is mouthwateringly expensive.
RR: And I assume that you will have your band Electronica with you?
MU: Yes that’s right.
RR: I found out that you played nearby at the Mitsubishi Halls in Düsseldorf only in August.
MU: It was an acoustic festival and that’s easy, you just turn up with a guitar and your ears and away you go. That might be the way it goes from now on in all honesty. The industry has changed so much as well you know Richard. This is from extreme too extreme and on this tour there are only 12 or 13 of us. You have to see it through and that’s what we’re doing.
RR: Well good luck on that. Are ticket sales ok?
MU: Well no they’re not really. It’s all across the board. I went across to America which had opened up again for some acoustic shows and we found we were down on ticket sales but you were also down on bums on seats. So people were buying tickets but then not turning up because of fear with the Covid thing still happening. It was still very fresh in America and had only just opened up after Covid. I toured with Howard Jones earlier this year and it was the same thing, around 20 to 35% of people who bought tickets were not turning up for the shows. That has been happening here in Europe and the UK as well. You’ve got to be on social media to show people that you’re there and that the shows are really going to happen because there is a massive element of doubt now. People don’t want to pay €50 for a ticket or whatever it costs and then find out that the gig is not going to happen. They’d rather hang on to that €50 and then see if that show is going to happen and turn up and pay on the door. But even now there is 15 to 20% no-shows and certainly my demographic are aware of this, these are the people that are most susceptible to it. My demographic is probably the 35 to 65-year-olds.
RR: I think it’s just as bad if not worse for the younger bands because people are simply not turning up, end of.
MU: it’s odd I guess and almost a double edged sword. A lot of bands out there touring who I’ve never heard of and at my age I shouldn’t know of them which is as the music industry should be, I shouldn’t know who these bands are. But these bands are turning up and selling out, and that must be to do with social media and music and games and movies or TV products and syncs that people have a following through that. The old way of doing it through radio and stuff just doesn’t work anymore. Young people don’t listen to the radio, they send each other things hence Kate Bush (recent success).
RR: I was just about to mention Kate Bush in regards to the Netflix series ‘Stranger Things’ that pushed her back into the limelight with ‘Running Up That Hill’ becoming a number one hit in the summer of 2022.
MU: Well the youngsters find something on there like Netflix and then they let their friends know and they say what a great track it is and they send a clip. So you find it’s this completely viral thing and it’s totally out with anything that you and I Richard would have dealt with in our time.
RR: after years of performing A&R at Major publishing companies like Warner/Chappell, IMN, six record companies and corporations such as the BBC, I do find that the way the A&R works now to a certain degree is totally alien in some aspects, not all but some aspects. Luckily, the basics are the same, yet still I find a lot of younger artists have no idea about A&R. Incredible. All this stuff about meta data and algorithms, I’m sitting there and I’m thinking a lot of this is just bullshit, at the end of the day a good song is a good song.
MU: Well yeah I agree, that’s what you’d like to think and hope.
RR: I first saw you play live almost 40 years ago when Ultravox played live at the Brighton Centre but even then you could go and see a gig with 40 people watching. I remember seeing Warren Cann, the Ultravox drummer playing live at a small venue called The Flag next to the Dog and Duck pub in North Wembley in front of a few dozen people.
MU: Ah the band Helden. With Hans Zimmer. Now a worldwide star.
RR: yes, after the gig, I was leaning against the bar and Warren Cann came up and bought a drink. I said to Warren ‘I found out about you and Helden from the fanzine ‘In The City’, if you remember that?
MU: yeah yeah. I do.
RR: There was a free single from Helden attached to one of the fanzines featuring one song from Helden and the other and I can remember the name, a band called Hoi Polloi. The Helden track was very Bowie-esque and that is me down to a tea so I thought I’ll go out and buy the single. So I went to my local record shop which was Rounder Records in Burgess Hill in Sussex and asked the lady Wendy if they had the Helden single and she said ‘yes it’s in the bargain bin for 10p’. She said in fact ‘there are four of them’ so I decided to buy all four singles for a grand sum of 40p. So I then related the story to Warren Cann and I’m leaning against the bar and he’s a tall lad and I’m quite short and all he said was ‘cheers’, rolled his eyes and gave me a look that would’ve melted chocolate.
MU: (laughs), yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah! The bargain bin I don’t think Warren would’ve wanted to hear about that.
RR: I have a story about Hans Zimmer to add. A very good friend of mine is called Denis Conoley and Denis was signed up in the 70s to DJM records, Pye records and various other record labels and was a very good friend of Marc Bolan from T. Rex. Marc Bolan even plays rhythm guitar on two of Denis Conoley’s singles. So Denis was putting out another solo single and the record company decided that despite Denis being a great guitarist and keyboard player that they would get in another keyboardist. They mention this young guy whizz kid who is German and said he would do the keyboard on the track, Denis was not happy about this but relented for the record company. When the song was completed with Hans Zimmer’s keyboard lines replacing Denis keyboard lines, Denis said no way is it as good as my version on the keyboard. I don’t think this guy will come to anything.
MU: So Hans took his talents elsewhere. LOL.
RR: I want to talk about a few of your songs that I felt never deserved the accolades that they deserved when they were released. From an A&R position I do not feel that these songs deserve their due credit. One of those songs was ‘Sister and Brother’ which many people are unaware you performed as a duet with Kate Bush.
MU: Yeah I think that was on my second solo album ‘Answers To Nothing’ but I’m not too sure. I can’t remember now. Yes I was a lucky boy, she doesn’t do duets with many people. I was working with George Martin for the ‘Quartet’ Ultravox album and I’d just done a cover of ‘No Regrets’ and it was in the charts (it made the UK top ten). George came in one day and said ‘they’ve asked me to become musical director for this charity called the Princes Trust’ and he said ‘Eric is doing it, (Eric Clapton), Phil’s on drums (Phil Collins) and Pete Townshend is in charge of the band and he said ‘would you come on and do your song’ and I said ‘great, fantastic’ and when George mentioned it to Pete, Pete said ‘I’ve just reviewed his records on Roundtable’ because they did a blind review and I was on roundtable with Pete and the programme guy said ‘we’re gonna play your record, do you mind?’ and I said ‘no that’s fine’ and they paid my record and luckily he liked it and he said ‘oh whoever is playing that guitar he’s great.’ He said ‘ah it’s Midge, he can play guitar you can come in and he can play in the band,’ so I’m in the house band and Mick Karn is on bass and that is where I met Mick.
RR: Ah, that’s where you met Mick.
MU: that’s right. And we ended up backing Robert Plant and some others I can’t remember now and Kate Bush was on and everybody was in love with Kate, everybody loved Kate. We did ‘Wedding List’ which as you probably know is a very complicated song. We met through that and a couple of years later we were at a Thank You party that Prince Charles and then Lady Diana threw for all the artists for giving their time for the Princes Trust and we were standing chatting at the party and Kate asked me what I was up to. I said I have this song that I would love you to do and she said, ‘great, send it over.’ So I sent her over the multi track knowing she was in the middle of her own album which I think was ‘The Hounds of Love’ and I thought oh well I’ll hear back in six months when she gets five minutes for her to knock off a vocal. She phoned me up three days later and said, ‘do you wanna come and hear what I’ve done?’, and I went to her studio and she played the tape and it was a Kate choir! It was her multitracked and she’d spent obviously a lot of time doing this and I was completely aghast with a lump in my throat, a tear in my eye listening to Kate singing one of my songs and it was just fantastic. Oh yeah they are the magic moments, not the big bits on stage, the bits that nobody sees, that’s the good stuff.
RR: Did you or your record label which I assume was Chrysalis Records ever consider releasing it as a single?
MU: it was chrysalis records. We talked about it and Kate cleared it and then it never came out, it never happened for some reason.
RR: that’s a real shame.
MU: yeah the ones that go away, I’ve got lots of them. It would’ve been great, I even had the UB40 guys on backing vocals. Ali and Robin Campbell, both of them were singing on the choruses. I asked them to do it. I called them up and asked them to do it, they’ve got fantastic harmony vocals as only brothers can have, you know? That sound that they made, so next time you listen to it listen to the chorus.
End of part one.