“These days as a songwriter, I don’t have to sit down and think of scenarios to write songs about. I don’t have to invent little stories because life is a weird and wonderful thing and it throws many ideas at you. I write about real stuff. I write about things that affect me, worry me, and make me happy.”
We’re pleased to share our new interview with Band Aid co-founder and Ultravox/Visage member Midge Ure. After releasing his first solo record for the first time in a decade, A Music Blog, Yea? gave this Scottish musician and singer-songwriter a call to discuss creating an honest album, his incredible vocal chops, reflecting on the Band Aid experience, and his book release In A Picture Frame. Ahead of catching him live on the Fragile Troubadour Tour (which kicks off tonight in Seattle), dive into our interview below:
AMBY: Hello Midge, welcome to A Music Blog, Yea? and thanks for speaking with me today.
Midge Ure: Not a problem at all. It’s my pleasure!
AMBY: How are you doing today?
Midge Ure: Very well, thank you.
AMBY: Congrats on the release of your new record Fragile. This is the first solo album of yours in more than a decade! Why was this the year that you decided to finally release some new music for your fans?
Midge Ure: There were a whole lot of reasons it took as long as it did. Around two years ago, Ultravox recorded an album together, and that gave me the incentive to finish all of these ideas I had and complete everything. I think it was almost at the point of getting really bored of what I was doing and I felt that I better finish an album now because if I go off completely it could take another ten years to come up with something else new.
AMBY: The lyrics on the record are extremely honest; as I listened to the album, I felt like you were singing directly to the listener and completely opened the door to your feelings. Is the honesty aspect of the album one of the reasons the record is titled Fragile?
Midge Ure: I think, these days as a songwriter, I don’t have to sit down and think of scenarios to write songs about. I don’t have to invent little stories because life is a weird and wonderful thing and it throws many ideas at you. I write about real stuff. I write about things that affect me, worry me, and make me happy. I try to make it as honest as possible without it being brutal or harsh. I try and write as openly from the heart as I can, but there’s also an element of what I do where I try and write about specific subjects but hopefully approaching it was a different angle. Hopefully that comes across on the songs.
AMBY: Aside from the release of Fragile, you’re also on the Stephen Emmer record which is a throwback to Scott Walker-esque crooner tracks. What was the experience like working on that?
Midge Ure: Very different, I’d have to say! Fragile was a very introvert project because I did just about everything myself on the album all the way through to the engineering, mixing, and designing the album artwork. All of that stuff, I was so heavily involved in. Whereas with Stephen’s album, he had already recorded the music – with these stunning arrangements and it was all very cinematic – and then got in touch with me. The first thing you do, as an artist, is being a little weary about people getting in touch with you through the internet saying “I want you to be part of this” because there tends to be some strange people out there. The moment he said, “my good friend Glenn Gregory” I knew that it was all fine.
AMBY and Midge Ure: [laughs]
Midge Ure: If Glenn is doing this, then this is okay. So I chatted with Stephen and he sent me a track he wanted me to write a melody and lyrics for. I ended up, weirdly, writing the lyrics and recording the vocals in a hotel room in Germany while I was on tour. Over a couple of days, I honed that vocal in and emailed him the parts.
AMBY: The entire process of working together was done through technology, nothing in-person?
Midge Ure: We had never actually met until the track was complete! He lived in Holland, sent the track to me in Germany, I recorded in Germany, sent it back to him, and then someone in New York mixed it. It was a very modern collaboration.
AMBY: In support of the album’s release, you toured together with other legends like Tom Bailey and Howard Jones on the Retro Futura Tour. What was that experience like?
Midge Ure: It’s fantastic. I had known Howard for a long time and toured with him many years ago. He’s such a pleasure to be around and is such a lovely and talented man. I’d never met Tom, so when we met up in New York, he was such a lovely guy and such a spiritual character. We all got along very well. It made touring an incredibly good thing to do. It made it very easy. It was like one big family. I know that’s very cliché to say, but Tom had his wife with him and Howard had his wife with him and it was a lovely process. It was an absolute pleasure because these things can be absolute nightmares [laughs], but luckily it wasn’t.
AMBY: After seeing you perform in Toronto, I was listening to Vienna and your voice sounds the exact same, if not better live. For other artists reading our interview, what advice would you give them on keeping your vocal chops?
Midge Ure: Ohhhh, you’re asking the wrong guy.
AMBY: Why’s that?
Midge Ure: What was interesting for me on the Retro Futura Tour, was if you walked down the corridors before the show started, you would hear various people doing vocal exercises [sings scales]. I don’t do any. I don’t do any at all. It’s dreadful and probably the worst thing you could probably do. I walk out there cold and take a run at the mic and out comes this thing. Hopefully I get the right notes… I’m fortunate as I haven’t had to drop the key of any of the songs. Maybe it’s because I’ve written so many songs in ridiculously high keys, that I’ve got to keep up with it and get up there. It’s very kind of you to say that I sounded good. It’s always a pleasure to hear that because I’m never quite sure what it sounds like from the front.
AMBY: I would have never known that. Thanks for the great tidbit [laughs].
Midge Ure: Don’t advise anyone to do it, though! Listen to your music teachers and do some vocal exercises.
AMBY: Looking back at the Band Aid experience, since you were an interracial part of that alongside Bob Geldof, with a lot of the same issues still occurring in the world, how do you reflect on it years later? What do you think we can do now to make a difference?
Midge Ure: I think you’ve got to carry on carrying on. You have to keep working on it. We knew that Band Aid isn’t going to fix a cancerous tumor, but it will cover a cut. That’s all it does. It’s not there to fix things, but to help people focus on fixing things. The analogy was always there, but once you start, you can’t really stop; you have to keep hacking away at it. Over the last thirty years, we’ve been chipping away at it and I feel we made a difference.
AMBY: And since we’re reflecting on past experiences, I wanted to bring up your newest your book release, In A Picture Frame – it’s a collection of unique and unseen photographs of Ultravox that you took between 1979–1985. When you looked back at those memories and photographs, what are some that really stood out for you?
Midge Ure: I look back at those photographs and have nothing but happy memories. It was a ground-breaking time musically and it was a ground-breaking time technologically. I look back at some of the equipment we used and wondered how on earth we managed to do what we did because a lot of it wasn’t designed to go on tour. Soundcheck would take five hours and it was madness. I look back at the photographs and think of nothing but great times. Aside the fact that it was Ultravox and Visage, it’s amazing how quickly things date – fashions, styles, décor, cars. It’s a great snapshot of an era that’s long gone by.
AMBY: To wrap things up, is there anything you’d like to do that you haven’t done in your career? Is there any kind of project or secret passion you haven’t explored yet and would like to?
Midge Ure: It’s hard to say. I’ve been incredibly fortunate; I’ve managed to work with most of the people that I wanted to work with. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with David Bowie, and that would be quite nice [laughs], but I’ve worked with so many artists that I respect and admire. That’s been a fantastic experience.
Thank you Midge Ure, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Alicia Atout | @AliciaAtout