Ahead of Dubai gig, Midge Ure reflects on his incredible four-decade career
Mixed messages can be found in Scottish musician Midge Ure’s recent releases.
In 2012, he revived Ultravox, the influential synth-pop band he led through the 1980s, to release their first album with him as leader in 28 years, entitled Brilliant.
Last year, he followed this with a solo album, his 12th, entitled Fragile. Brilliant and fragile – two of the best words, perhaps, you could use to describe any singer-songwriter.
“The whole idea of calling it Brilliant was self-effacing,” says Ure. “It was talking about how brilliant we thought we were – we thought everything we ever did turned to gold – looking back on those halcyon days and taking the p*** out of ourselves.”
Despite being written concurrently, Fragile dealt with the flip side of that sparkle, inspired by the alcohol addiction that Ure successfully battled in the early 2000s.
“I started Fragile quite possibly around my darkest period,” says the 61-year-old. “Just over 10 years ago, I found myself in serious trouble with alcohol.
“I was about to lose everything – my family, my livelihood, I’d completely lost my way. That album was [about] absolute honesty – holding my hand up and saying: ‘I thought I was brilliant, this wonderful character who could carry the weight of the world on their shoulders – but I can’t. I’m only human. I fall apart.’”
Growing up in the suburbs of Glasgow, Ure began his four-decade career gigging in bands while still a teenager. Music offered him an escape.
“I was a geeky kid,” he says. “I thought if I had a guitar strapped around my neck, all of a sudden I’d be incredibly attractive to girls, which worked – for a while”.
One of those bands, Salvation, was signed, rebranded as Slik and remarketed with a manufactured boy-band image. The songwriters behind Bay City Rollers were brought on board and Slik scored a UK number one in 1976 with Forever and Ever. For Ure, it was a bittersweet experience.
“I thought, I didn’t write the song, I didn’t produce the record, I wasn’t even allowed to play on the record – and I just felt completely cold,” he says. “Within six months we broke the band up. I left because it was just nonsense.”
Restless for more authenticity, in 1977 Ure decamped to London and joined former Sex Pistol Glen Matlock in punk group Rich Kids. Within 24 hours of arriving in the capital, Ure had played three gigs.
“The first day I got there, we went into a little rehearsal room, learnt three songs, went out that night and played the three songs at three different venues,” he says. These included opening for The Police and playing a warehouse party, with Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen in attendance.
“Unbelievable – 24 hours and I’d met everyone,” says Ure. “It was just ridiculous.”
But the restlessness remained. Inspired by the new electronic sounds coming out of Berlin, and heard in London’s Soho, he bought a synthesiser. “Glenn and [guitarist] Steve [New] absolutely hated it, and it split the band in two,” says Ure. He and drummer Rusty Egan left and formed synth-pop band Visage with singer Steve Strange.
In early 1979, Ure was invited on the road with Thin Lizzy, filling in as guitarist following the sudden departure of Gary Moore.
“It was like being an extra in Spinal Tap,” says Ure, one of more than a dozen guitarists to have played with the Irish rockers, who were fronted by the late Phil Lynott.
“Had I pushed it, I could probably have ended up in Thin Lizzy as a permanent job, but it wasn’t my thing. I loved it – because I knew I was going back to this new thing that was hideously exciting.”
The “new thing” was Ultravox. Shortly before the tour, Ure and Visage violinist Billy Currie had made the decision to revive Ultravox, Currie’s band which had been languishing following the departure of vocalist John Foxx. Ure took the helm, and after the success of the 1980 hit single Vienna, and the album of the same name, this came to be seen as the band’s “classic” line-up.
When quizzed, Ure admits he has one big regret about quitting the band in 1987 after five albums and a string of hit singles.
“Had we ridden out the storm and sensed our internal problems, we would come up with some really interesting music,” he says. “We could have gone down the Radiohead route.”
Even without his Ultravox success, and a solo UK number one hit in 1985 with If I Was, there’s one project for which Ure will always be remembered: Band Aid. Alongside Bob Geldof, Ure co-wrote Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the charity hit that became the UK’s second biggest-selling single of all time, clocking sales of 3.75 million.
“I wrote the parts which didn’t have many words,” says Ure with a laugh. “My main lyrical contribution was changing ‘there won’t be snow in Ethiopia this Christmas’ to ‘ ... Africa’, because Ethiopia does not scan in anybody’s book.”
Such an achievement must make him a British national treasure – but Ure isn’t having any of it.
“Is national treasure above or below legend?” he asks. “I’ve noticed in a lot of the interviews I do the headline says ‘music legend Midge Ure’. I’m not sure I’ve attained national-treasure status yet – it’s just a polite way of saying ‘old b*****’.”
• Midge Ure will perform at The Irish Village tonight at 9pm. Tickets, Dh125 from platinumlist.ae