x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Musician, cook, humanitarian: Midge Ure

As Midge Ure reunites with Ultravox for a new album, James McNair talks to him about fame, technology and his musical legacy.

After almost 30 years, Midge Ure is back with former Ultravox band members for a new album. Hermann J Knippertz / AP Photo
After almost 30 years, Midge Ure is back with former Ultravox band members for a new album. Hermann J Knippertz / AP Photo

The Scottish singer and musician Midge Ure was a founding member of the New Romantic act Visage. He later found major success fronting Ultravox, the Krautrock-influenced band whose 1981 single Vienna reached Number 2 in the UK. In 2005, he was awarded an OBE in acknowledgement of his work on Live Aid and Live 8 alongside Sir Bob Geldof. Now Ure is back with Ultravox and Brilliant, their first studio album in almost three decades.

Zillions of bands have reformed recently - was it inevitable that Ultravox would follow suit?

Absolutely not. It only came about because [gig promoter] Live Nation got in touch with us all individually and said, "It's 30 years since you wrote Vienna - how about some anniversary shows?" I thought we'd never agree on the terms, but we did.

Your new song Contact seems dubious about some modern forms of communication.

Yes. My daughters text and Skype like mad. Sometimes they'd rather do that than go and visit their friends in person. They get asked out on dates by text, too. That obviously requires less courage, but it's not quite the same, is it?

I can't imagine a synth-pop pioneer like yourself being a Luddite, though?

No, I've always loved my gadgets and my synthesisers, but I actively avoided Facebook for a long time, even though there were plenty of people on there pretending to be me. I eventually realised it's quite a useful tool. You can keep your fans updated and you get all the fan mail that might previously have ended up in the record company's cupboard.

The title track on Brilliant deals with the fickle nature of fame.

That's right. A lot of kids these days seem to want to be famous for the sake of being famous. They want the icing without having to build the cake.

When your 1970s pop band Slik's single Forever And Ever went to Number 1 in the UK, you were 23. How did you handle early-onset fame?

Incredibly well. The fame went away as quickly as it arrived (laughs). I hadn't written the song, and, truth be told, I wasn't even allowed to play on it. That's how things were done back then. It was all very bittersweet.

You famously co-organised Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8 with Bob Geldof. Can you imagine today's young bands picking up the baton?

The template is still there, so why not? But it was telling that, when we did Live 8 20 years on from Live Aid, it was the same old dinosaurs that showed up - and thank God they did. There were a few new artists, but the brunt of it was your U2s and your Pink Floyds.

In 2007, you were a finalist on BBC TV's culinary competition Celebrity Masterchef. Any new recipes?

No, that show put me off cordon bleu cooking for life (laughs). The tasks were ridiculous. I still enjoy making dinner for my family, though. It's my way of relaxing.

Musically speaking, you'll likely be remembered for Vienna. Comfortable with that?

Well, there are other songs I've written that I'd prefer weren't my legacy - let's put it like that. I'm proud of Vienna. We stuck our necks out there. It's an electronic ballad that speeds up and has a viola solo in the middle.

Can you still identify with the pencil-mustachioed young man you were in the song's video?

It looks dated, but that video launched a thousand ships. Suddenly people wanted mini-movies; music videos that were shot on 16mm film. I still don't know how I managed to arch my eyebrow and suck my cheeks in at the same time, though.