ATH Interview & Show Pics: Midge Ure

Midge UreMidge Ure came to Austin to do one of his rather rare solo acoustic shows. With his first release in twelve years finally out to the public, the pioneer in electronically tinged pop had new material to revitalize a fan base that is still in love with the classics from previous solo efforts, Visage and, most importantly, Ultravox. I took advantage of the trip in to get a quick email interview done before the show at Cactus Cafe.

Head on past the break to read a Q&A covering the many projects, life as a solo artist and even a little bit on being the guy behind Band-Aid along with coverage of the show and plenty of pics. Ladies and Gentlemen, Midge Ure…

Whether you know it or not, many of the bands you know and love took something away from Midge’s contributions to music. His career was shaped by setting out on the digital wilderness of the late 70’s. Check it out…

ATH: Going to gush a little bit, “Fade to Grey” haunted me for a year in the days of music before Shazam, Siri or Google could tell you what was on the mixtape you found at a party. Still a best-of desert-island song for me.

MU: Very pleased to hear that.

ATH: So let’s start with the floating you seemed to do, Slik into Visage, Ultravox, Thin Lizzy, and future collaborations with Moby and Jam&Spoon and also writing solo the whole time – are you just too restless?

MU: If you look at the ‘invisible’ links you will see there was a line running right through most of this and that it wasn’t just a random process. I bought a synthesiser and introduced it into the Rich Kids with a view to incorporating electronics and rock instruments. Unfortunately half of the Rick Kids hated it so the half who liked it formed a studio band consisting of fave musicians from Magazine and Ultravox. We called this Visage and through working on that project I ended up joining Ultravox. Strange how this stuff works.

ATH: Do you feel any of those songs or records would have been better or worse without the entanglement of other projects?

MU: I think they were exactly what they should have been. In fact some more commercially successful than we ever imagined.

ATH: Is there something you still use while writing or recording that was influenced by George Martin?

MU: Not to be afraid to experiment and fail. Sometimes taking a step into the unknown can reap huge musical rewards.

ATH: I recall the video for “If I Was” as being the 80’s formula. How do you look back on those days? Lip-sync’ing to a track on TV shows that featured “live performances”?

MU: It was a great time. When you are young and naïve you have nothing to lose and when things start falling into place you are only limited by your own imagination.

ATH: The solo acoustic sets are billed as special events, though I can’t imagine what some of these songs would sound like pulled back. Do you write acoustically and then translate structures to the layers of instruments?

MU: I don’t write in the normal sense of songwriting. The construction of the song, production, recording etc is all the one process to me. The studio is as important a tool/instrument to me as the guitar.

ATH: How do you decide song structure when stripping things back down?

MU: There are obvious limitations when playing these songs on acoustic but it’s the test of a song to take away all the production values and see what still exists. Most songs I have attempted have made the transition well but things like ‘Reap the Wild Wind’ depend on the instrumentation as much as the lyrics.

ATH: “Fragile” features instrumentals, darker tracks and pop gems. Do you have to have multiple personalities to complete a solo album, viewing the work critically as each instrument’s proponent and bringing elements of the songs to life with different perspectives?

MU: Not multiple personalities just different moods like we all experience. I’m equally comfortable kerranging my guitar as creating an atmospheric, textural instrumental but they all still sound like me.

ATH:listened to lately or have seen live that impressed?

MU: My youngest daughter is a huge Ed Sheeran fan and I used to tease her about it, until I saw him play. He is the real thing! I also love the Icelandic band Sigur Ros.

ATH: I would be remiss to not mention Band Aid. You said in an interview that Band Aid was a life highlight, but not a career highlight. What was your career highlight?

MU: Career highlight come in many different forms. Working with George Martin and 3 out of the 4 Beatles. Playing guitar 1 on 1 with Eric Clapton. Meeting my childhood heroes and finding out they not only knew who I was but that they had mutual respect. It’s a wonderfully strange world.

The show itself was a great mix of story-telling, comedy and great music. Midge his a quick wit, jokes you can tell aren’t part of a scripted “an evening with” type show that are canned and easily identified. Don’t get me wrong, the stories about reuniting with his old band-members and setting out to create a new genre were well delivered as though they were common tales, but it was still personal.

Musically, you realize that Midge is quite a guitarist. Playing an acoustic hybrid Fender, he could not only build up the chords but had a little fun with flourishes, especially in songs like “Vienna” and “Let It Rise”. But it is all about the big vocal. There has to be something about the Scots, perhaps the folk songs taught as children prepare them for longevity. Midge would finish notes feet form the microphone, his face always expressing a difficulty level for the particular note. Though he lamented that high parts have gotten higher, there were few cracks, those cracks there to prove he was human. He startled all of us at the start of “Dancing With Tears…” with a very powerful first note, most of the audience jumped (or maybe it was just me). “If I Was” and the special arrangement of “Fade to Grey” worked best aside from the new stuff, especially the aforementioned “Let It Rise”. The encore (well, songs after a brief pause because he didn’t want to deal with leaving the stage) featured a bonus of “Do They Know It’s Christmas”. Cheesy, lovingly cheesy.

The family pictured drove six hours form OKC to see this. Pretty cool. It was the kids’ idea.

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